Attorneys and advocates working with immigrant women who allege they underwent overly aggressive, unwanted, or medically unnecessary gynecological procedures in ICE detention said federal investigators are excluding witnesses and setting them up to be deported.
The number of immigrant women who allege they underwent nonconsensual or medically unnecessary gynecological procedures at the hands of Mahendra Amin while detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, has grown to at least 43. Of those, 17 women remain detained and only one has received a request by federal investigators to be interviewed, according to Caitlin Lowell, a law student at Columbia Law School's Immigrants’ Rights Clinic who is working with this group of detainees.
Seven of the 17 women are set to be deported by ICE in the next two weeks without speaking with investigators, Lowell said.
"It's as if ICE is trying to clear house before the new administration comes in by deporting as many of these witnesses as soon as possible," Lowell told BuzzFeed News. "At a bare minimum, any woman ICE has a record showing they received medical care by Dr. Amin and are alleging nonconsent or medically unnecessary surgeries or procedures should be interviewed, and that hasn’t happened.”
In a statement, ICE said any implication that the federal immigration enforcement agency has been attempting to impede the investigation by conducting deportations of those being interviewed is "completely false.”
But that leaves out women who attorneys said were victims of the gynecologist who have not been interviewed or who the Justice Department may choose to not interview, Lowell said.
The current setup, Lowell said, allows the federal government, which is investigating allegations of abuse done to women while under its care, to deport potential witnesses.
Since the whistleblower complaint that included allegations about unwanted gynecological procedures was filed with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) in September, at least six women who allege they were victims of Amin have been deported, according to Lowell. Four spoke briefly with the Justice Department and two did not.
One woman, Lowell said, had her deportation hold removed right after she conducted one interview with investigators during which she didn't go over everything. The woman had a second interview Tuesday, but Lowell was told her deportation is still scheduled for an unknown date.
In a statement, ICE said it was fully cooperating with the investigation being conducted by DHS OIG and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
"ICE has been notifying the DHS OIG...about any planned transfers or removals of Irwin detainees who were former patients of Dr. Amin, and is fully supporting the efforts by both the DHS OIG and DOJ Civil Rights Division," a spokesperson for the federal agency said.
Amin has denied the allegations through his attorney and did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
BuzzFeed News previously reported on women who said Amin conducted medical procedures on them without their consent.
Elora Mukherjee, director of Columbia Law School's Immigrants’ Rights Clinic who is working with women at the Irwin County Detention Center, said the deportations and attempted removals make it less likely victims and witnesses will want to cooperate with investigators because they fear retaliation.
Earlier this month, the Intercept reported that Alma Bowman — an ICE detainee who has been a key witness for lawyers and journalists of Amin performing the allegedly unnecessary or overly aggressive procedures — was nearly deported.
VICE News also reported that another potential witness in the investigation into Amin was almost deported last week until Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, intervened.
Not only should the women not be deported, Mukherjee said, but the government should also give those who participate in the investigation a document they need to apply for a special visa for victims of crimes in exchange for providing information against Amin. The "U visa" gives undocumented immigrants who report crimes and work with law enforcement a path to permanent residency.
In order to apply for the visa, immigrants must obtain certification from law enforcement that they've been helpful to authorities in prosecuting their abuser.
Mukherjee said lawyers have asked the federal government repeatedly for law enforcement certifications for the women who are cooperating in the investigation, but they haven't received them.
While the certification that would allow them to start the process for the "U visa" doesn't guarantee protection from deportation, it's more than the women currently have.
"It's really appalling," Mukherjee told BuzzFeed News. "They're scared of retaliation, they've seen what's happened to other women. And when they're coming forward, the investigators will not provide them with protection. It's outrageous."
Yanira — a 36-year-old Mexican woman who asked only to be referred to by her first name for privacy reasons — said she was scheduled to be deported on Monday morning, a few days after federal investigators were notified that she and 16 other women currently in ICE detention underwent nonconsensual and physically aggressive gynecological procedures performed by Amin.
She was on a tarmac about to be put on a flight when her deportation was prevented by her Columbia legal team, stopping her from returning to a country she hasn't been to since she was 3.
Yanira had been transferred from jail to ICE detention on Dec. 26, 2019, after pleading guilty to a minor drug charge. Before the transfer, she had undergone a hysterectomy procedure and soon began suffering from hot flashes and fatigue. She put in a request for medicine to control her symptoms.
The first time she saw Amin was on Feb. 6, 2020, according to court documents. Amin told that her wanted to perform a vaginal ultrasound. Afterward, Amin put several gloved fingers inside of her vagina. It felt too deep and caused her burning pain, she said. BuzzFeed News reviewed medical files that confirm Amin conducted an ultrasound that day.
Yanira said she repeatedly said "no," but that Amin didn't stop. For two days after the examination, Yanira said she bled and had discharge. She was in pain for seven days and had to take painkillers.
On Sept. 8, 2020, Yanira saw Amin again for a refill for the medication he prescribed her previously. A nurse told Yanira she needed to have a Pap smear and told her to undress. The Pap smear was painful. Afterward, as Yanira was cleaning herself up, she noticed she was bleeding and said Amin didn't put lubricant on the metal device used to open her vagina.
"It broke through the skin a bit and rubbed it raw. The force he used in it was just shoving it up in there and was why I felt so sore and so swollen," Yanira told BuzzFeed News.
Yanira said she bled for about two days after and was in pain for about a week. She said she had to take ibuprofen she bought from the commissary to lessen the pain.
"I want to speak with investigators because I don't believe the way we were treated was right and ICE needs to learn how to give us proper treatment," Yanira said. "We're human beings with feelings, with families we care about. We are not animals."
Not only does Yanira hope to speak with investigators but also hopes she will be released into the US in order to see her 11-year-old daughter who has developed depression and anxiety attacks since her mom was imprisoned.
Yanira has a hearing on Friday before a federal judge who will hear arguments on the temporary restraining order her legal team filed to stop her deportation. The lawsuit said Yanira has a First Amendment right to speak with investigators about the abuse she suffered at the hands of ICE and its contractors.
"If I were to get deported, I don't think I would be able to speak to investigators about what happened and tell people how this doctor actually mistreated me," she said.
This post was update with new numbers of detained potential witnesses.